gowns, gardeners and gongs

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Advice I was given yesterday.

  • Don’t eat the black pudding (ignored that already at breakfast today)
  • Be nice (excellent tenet)
  • Don’t work for anyone you don’t like (I will add a codicil of “unless you have no choice”, rent and food are not luxuries)
  • Say yes (presumably unless you don’t like the person asking)

Notwithstanding the fact that these are huge generalisations and there will be plenty of exceptions to prove the rule, I have added some of my own already, as far as advice for graduates as well as mere Certificate holders such as me they are more succinct and more relevant than much of the stuff that has been doled out to me over my many years in many very different educational institutions.

I rather wish I had a video of the man in question during his talk / speech / stand up routine, as James Alexander Sinclair , reknowned stand up comedian, garden designer has a wicked twinkle in his eye that belies his sober appearance and is an accomplished choreographer, taking control of the stage that we, the graduates had merely marched across, certificates in hand, only moments earlier.  However, pop over to his website for a photo – he looks rather good in a floral headress, and perhaps read his blog to get a little taste of his way with words.

My journey to the lecture hall at RBGE on 12th September began something like this.

Me (observing husband deep in contemplation of expensive fishing tackle on a well-known on-line auction site):  Do you remember how helpful you found the herbal healing salve I made you?

Him (not looking up from piscatorial porn): Hmmmm

Me: I wondered if I should apply for that course at the Edinburgh Botanics I was telling you about.

Him: Hmmm

I signed up on the spot.  And so I morphed from Mum to Professor Smellie Sprout and have never looked back.  Regular and observant readers will know that in October 2020 I take the next step in my herbal journey and start training with Nicki Durrell at The Plant Medicine School in Cork with a view to becoming a fully fledged medical herbalist.  I certainly didn’t see that coming when I told my school careers advisor (in all seriousness) that I wanted to be a spy, or as a fall back, an actress.

And so,  almost a year later Stuart and I arrived at Edinburgh airport from ten days in northern Spain at some silly o’clock hour and crashed out in our Airbnb, chosen to be within walking distance from RGBE, we didn’t think we were going to be up to much travelling the following day!

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Dress (suitably botanical) ironed, hair tamed as best I could I presented myself for registration.  Gosh, there were a lot of people, and they all looked as if they were very knowledgeable.  I was in awe of those that held little tickets that declared they had completed a course in botanical illustration, what witchery is that?!  But lo, I spied a handful of my fellow Herbalogy Certificators (?) and then there we were, clutching our order numbers seated alphabetically by course ready for the off.

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I have been to a number of graduations of my own and more speech days and prize givings than I care to remember.  There were three speakers …..

But the Herbology Gods were smiling, nay they were laughing. First up was David.  If ever there was a perfect example of why Garden Design (new career) is better for the soul than Banking (previous career) it was David.  Pim followed with a wonderful pictorial summary of the MSc in Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants which left me wondering if there was room for a Colombian field trip in the Herbology Certificate too!

Next up was Mr Sinclair above and then suddenly it was all over and we were being marshalled for photographs.

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Health and safety alive and well – this was our photographer in the aptly named cherry picker.

It perhaps says something about our particular group that we had all noticed that there we had two drink tokens per person for the reception, and there was rocky road.  I believe there were other nibbles but champagne and rocky road did it for me.

And now  …. ?  Well who knows but for the time being I shall keep saying yes and see what happens.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

siege, vows, pipes and drums

Only three hundred people,  mostly women and children leave the fortress of Hondarribia after a siege lasting two months.  Over 16,000 canon rounds have been fired and the city is almost destroyed.  But those three hundred people walk out, the city does not surrender and the French, all 27,000 men plus two warships are forced to scuttle away.  After two months the Spanish army relieves a city that has been defended only by local men, women and children.

This was three hundred and sixty one years ago.  However the gratitude of the people of Hondarribia to the people that helped defend the town resulted in a vow to the Virgin of Guadalupe (the patron saint of Hondarribia) to continue to thank her for her intervention during the resistance, siege and ultimate relief of the town.  That vow is kept to this day.

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We arrived on day one.  The first night we saw a single band, last night there were maybe two or three, this evening we lost count.

All marching and preparing, I hesitate to say practicing, because they are march and note perfect for the grand Alarde on 8th September.

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Three hundred years ago the defenders arrived playing pipes and drums and carrying what weapons they had from pitchforks to guns.

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Today they leave the guns and pitchforks behind but keep the pipes and drums.  Each night this week the town is filled with more and more people and more and more bands leading up to the grand finale the Alarde, when the bands march up to the old city and a great feast of celebration begins.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to have unexpectedly been part of these celebrations.  Thank you Hondarribia.

Love Gillie x

 

pipes and pintxos

It’s always the French air traffic controllers.  I wouldn’t be the least surprised to discover that Brexit is actually the result of a French air traffic controllers’ strike.  For reasons that I will explain shortly I googled “French air traffic controller strike” and discovered there is actually a website that gives you a full list of planned French transport strike action for the year ahead.  FOR THE YEAR AHEAD!

“Allo Henri, what have we got planned for November 2019?  Nothing? Sacre Bleu!  Who is next on the rota?  Channel ports?  Excellent, a perfect match for le Brexit.”

Whether the French transport unions handily give out a list so that you can avoid travelling or so that you can pack up your picnic and sit on the sidelines and watch is not clear.  However, on Sunday 1st September there was a big blank spot next to French air traffic controllers.  Why then, I wondered, were we sitting on a Ryanair plane at Edinburgh airport while the captain patiently explained that due to an issue with French air traffic control we were going to be sitting on said plane for at least three more hours before take off.2019-09-01 07.01.53

On this occasion the French air traffic controllers got a bonus in their holiday chaos bingo game.  It was a technical fault.  Whilst we were bemoaning the fact that we had had to get up at silly o’clock to be on a 6.55 flight, in the long term it worked in our favour as I gather that many of the flights after us were cancelled.

So it was that we arrived in Santander a little later than planned, but we arrived nonetheless.  Car hire sorted and we were on the road to Hondarribia in the Basque Country.  Rolling green countryside (it is the wettest part of Spain earning the  nickname of Green Spain) made the somewhat longer journey that we had expected quite pleasant.

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Lo and behold we had arrived at the start of what is transpiring to be a never ending festival!  When confronted by hordes of happy celebrating people dressed in green we did a bit of internet searching and found that Sunday was the culmination of a Pelota cup and it would seem that Hondarribia had won.  The band marched around town (several times).

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Led by a young lady spinning her fan and protected by two burly but grinning chaps!

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So we settled down in a bar with a glass of Txakoli (Basque sparkling wine) and a few pintxos (a sort of tapas unique to the Basque Country of which more in another post) and  soaked up the atmosphere under the red geraniums.

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The following evening we headed back into town and the joint was jumping again.  This time, the brass and drums had been replaced by pipes played by young men and women in the red beret of the Basque Country.

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Clearly the celebrations were continuing, which was fine by us!  This time a rather good glass of red and some baked camembert and garlic.

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Twenty four hours later as I write this I can hear the pipes again.  I think it may be another lively evening in Hondarribia.

Love Gillie x

and it’s from the old we travel to the new

Yesterday I cried on and off most of the evening, went to bed and cried a little bit more. Woke up at 2.30am and failed to go back to sleep for another 2 hours as my mind wove its way through memories.  Had a near one died? No.  Was a loved one diagnosed with  terminal illness? No.  Were we about to declare bankruptcy? No.  The source of my sadness … a friend moved to the other end of the country.

We make friends at many different stages in our lives.  When we are young children our friends are mainly determined by our parents, they tend to be the children of their own friends.  We start to take control of our friendships at nursery and then school.  Some of our most enduring relationships are made at that time and I can include two friends I know I could call in the middle of the night from that era.  However, most of those don’t last the strains of time, travel and growing up.  During university and the early career years friends come and go as we move jobs, towns and even countries before we finally settle down in a career and/or a family.

It was at this stage in my life that this friendship was born.  I had moved to Durham from Scotland, newly married and with a toddler daughter following my husband’s medical career to his first consultant post.  She had just returned to Durham after a decade away, with three young children following her husband’s medical career to his first consultant post.  We both had a ribald sense of humour seasoned with plenty of sarcasm and an instant understanding of what is was like to be the non-working, non-medical wife of a hospital consultant (in those days – fairly shit – you are pretty much a non-person in the eyes of many of their colleagues of all ranks). It transpired our husbands had been at the same college at Cambridge (although like most men they couldn’t remember)  Our children were about to start in the same class at the same school.  Hello new friend.

Like all relationships we moved along with the tides and there would be periods when we didn’t see each other as much.  Once children became old enough to have outside interests and hobbies and husbands senior enough to be rarely around as they are sought after for conferences and committees across the country free time for coffee with friends is in short supply.  Thank goodness for friends with more time who arranged dinner parties etc.

Then finally the children gained driving licences and then moved away to university.  We began  a regular knitting and stitching group, six friends with a wicked sense of humour and a mutual love of knitting and stitching.  Ladies in Stitches was born.  Twice a month we spent the day at my friend’s house and upped the yarn and thread ante.  I learned to crochet, a dyed in the wool (no pun intended) stitcher learned to knit and has just completed her first pair of socks.

My friend introduced me to crewel work and I am still inordinately proud of my first ever attempt.

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I rediscovered ribbon embroidery.

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Another, a seriously accomplished crafter and professional seamstress took up lace work knitting with astonishing speed and equally astonishing skill.

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We had in-jokes.  At least five other people reading this will appreciate the significance of the squirrel!

We had days out  to festivals, exhibitions, gardens, we opened each other’s eyes, we learned from each other, we had a lot of fun and we supported each other quietly as we did so.  As each of us faced crises of sometimes quite frightening severity Ladies in Stitches wove a small part of the overall net that caught our fall.

Then a little part unravelled.  My friend announced that they were moving to the other end of the country.  It made perfect sense, that was where all their children lived, including her new grandchild.  Having brought my own children up without grandparents within 300 miles I understood, but my lower lip wobbled just a little.

They sold their house but without somewhere to move to down south they were looking to rent.  Lo and behold the tenants in our Barn had just left and they moved in next door.  My girls thought it was hysterical.  When they were younger the house next door to one of their friend’s in a nearby village came up for sale.  They were desperate for us to buy it so they could live next door to their best friend, they planned on digging tunnels  between the houses for ease of access!

We didn’t need tunnels. For a glorious year I had a good friend (and their two lovely dogs one of whom became bosom buddies with Poppy) a mere couple of yards away.  We didn’t live in each other’s pockets but the kettle was often on.

It couldn’t go on forever.  Yesterday she started the next stage in her journey and I wish her nothing but love and good fortune.  I am mourning the death of one friendship and learning to love the birth of a different one.  I am 55 years old, I have lived in this part of the world for 25 years, longer than I have ever lived anywhere in my entire life, I have been married for 25 years and this friendship has spanned almost all the time I have been married and lived here and so is intrinsically linked to a major part of my life so far.  It is hard to unpick it and re-work it into a different form.

But I will.

Love Gillie x

 

neville’s cross ecofest

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I can’t remember how long the ecofest has been going, but it must be getting on for at leat 10 to 15 years.  Now quite a fixture in the Durham calendar it is a wonderful mix of information, talks, music, food and, like weddings and funerals, one of the best places to catch up with people I’ve not seen in ages.

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First stop Transition Durham where I was helping out on the stand (aka talking to friends).2019-06-16 16.14.39

Right next door to the splendid Abundant Earth, picked up some fruit and veg and locally grown fava beans and stared wistfully at Matt’s beautifully turned wooden bowls, lunchboxes and much more.

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The call of Jo’s baskets was strong but I really don’t need another basket, although these are quite special and I yearn for the one with the wooden handle.

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By now is was time for lunch from the fabulous Refuse, part of the international Real Junk Food Project they turn unwanted food into pay as you feel delicious meals.  If you are ever in Chester-le-Street pop into their cafe.  They are also superb outside caterers if you happen to have an event coming up.

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This was at least the third pan and as you can see there was not a lot left.

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Subscription boxes too.  Why not combine it with a fruit and veg box from Abundant Earth?

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And whilst we are on the subject of food.  Our food choices matter, and we ought to have a genuine choice and even if we are on the breadline, even if we rely on food banks we have a right to know what is in our food, how it has been prepared and packaged, where it came from, how it has been processed.  Which is where Hannah and Peter from Food Durham come in, raising awareness of the importance of food and how it relates to the economy, the environment, health and well-being, and issues of social justice.

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Handmade crafts (the children and adults were swarming over the workshop Erica ran) all made from driftwood and sold to support the camps Erica helps run in Romania.  She also makes exquisite fused glass jewellery and decorations.

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Then perhaps you can clean up with some gorgeous soaps from the Durham Soap Company.

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Fancy a rummage?  Try the Swap Shop your unwanted books could be somebody else’s heart’s desire.

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Talking of books how about a bookcase from Handcrafted?  Handcrafted are based in Langley Moor and “was born out of a desire to see people who are disadvantaged due to crime, alcohol or substance abuse, unemployment, ill health or old age making a positive step and becoming active members of the community again”

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Durham Wildlife Trust (of which I am a member) manage some of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in the county and have masses going on all year round.  You’re not too late to take part in #30dayswild.

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And a quick diversion to pick up a loaf of bread from Sue.

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When it’s all over and you need somewhere to take a break and refocus.

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And finally …..

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Love Gillie x

making room

I love the period between Christmas and New Year.  I am fortunate enough to be able to spend that week gently chilling at home.  After the hustle and bustle of the preparations for the festive season I enjoy the sameness about each day and forgetting which day of the week it is.  Many years ago when the girls were still at home we had a huge blackboard (about 3 x 2 ft) in the kitchen upon which we wrote shopping lists, messages etc.  After I we had eaten Christmas lunch I would ceremoniously wipe the board clean and write in capital letters “MUMMY’S DAY OFF – FOOD IN THE FRIDGE!”

I don’t need to put the message out quite so clearly now, but the message is the same.  For the next day or so meals are assemblies of existing preparations, Mummy is going to knit/read/walk/watch old movies.  Because I am more still, there is less running around, I have time to have a closer look at my surroundings and notice how they have changed over the year.  What has gone, but more often, what has crept in.  Time for a whizz round.  Not a deep declutter of the kind that takes a couple of weeks at least, but a focus on one or two areas where accumulation has taken on epic proportions.

A few years ago whilst I was visiting my father in the States the girls and the Boss arranged for some beautiful waxed pitch pine shelves and bookcases to be built in the the sitting room as a Mothering Sunday present.  Because of the weird shape and history of our house (the original dates back to the 13th Century and bits have been added on all over the place over the years) we have a lot of doors and a lack of window sills and wall space for shelves.  For the first time ever I was able to display some of my precious carvings, silverware and photographs.  Books could come out of the dark and DVDs and CDs no longer made tall skyscraper skylines behind sofas and chairs.

However, as we all know, stuff expands to fill an empty space and as I was curled up with my knitting last night I knew that the DVDs and books in one corner of the sitting room just had to be cleared.

Two bin bags later it looks like this.  Not exactly minimalist (there was some discussion over some of the DVDs – they are now on a secret watch list and may yet have only a short time left in the house!), but there is now order and some space.

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Why not give a small corner a quick makeover, you won’t believe how much better it makes you feel.

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If you are struggling to decide what should stay and what should go, then turn to William Morris, he always has the answer;

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Love Gillie x

feeling festive in Riga

 

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The shops are not full of images of Father Christmas, the cafes and restaurants are not heaving with fairy lights.  Yet Riga feels a lot more festive than most cities in Western Europe.  Yes it does help that is is cold and everyone is wrapped up in big coats with fluffy hoods, that there is snow on the ground and there is a whopping great Christmas Tree in the square next to our hotel, but there is more too it than that.

We attended the lighting of the tree ceremony on Sunday.  As it was obviously all in Latvian we didn’t understand a word, except for the countdown.  I think that is universal.  There was no need for barriers, I think I saw two policemen, the small square was full of people enjoying the Christmas market, drinking Black Balsalm or hot chocolate and enjoying browsing the stalls.  There was no brash commercialism, just people having fun.

Before

 

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and after.

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Also, did you know that the first ever Christmas tree was from Riga?

I am feeling festive in Riga because there is no loud Christmas music blaring out of every shop, there are no plastic Father Christmases, no tinsel on every till.  Just a beautiful tree, a lovely market and other people feeling festive.

love Gillie x